We tend to think that happiness is the result of the right circumstances or external factors. If I just have a little more money, or live in this place or that, or arrange the right sort of pleasures, or be with just the right people, then I will be happy.
Of course, this doesn’t really work; it’s a little lie we tell ourselves to excuse our greed and excessiveness. It’s also at the heart of most marketing and sales pitches.
Deep down we know better. We know that happiness is an “inside job.” We know people who have much yet are unhappy; we know others who have little and are nonetheless happy.
It is often the same with what irritates and vexes us. An insight from the desert fathers reminds us of our own role in becoming irritated by others. It is paraphrased by Augustine Wetta in his book Humility Rules:
If you are upset when someone insults you, don’t put the blame on him. You were a pile of dry leaves; he was just the breeze that blew you over (From Abba Dorotheos of Gaza).
Yes, much of the pain from insult, misunderstanding, and irritation originates from within, not from without. If someone can “push my buttons,” I should consider why I have buttons out there for others to push? That is my part of the problem.
While it is true that others should not insult me, it is also true that many of us are too easily offended. In these times of strident opinions and identity politics we have become thin-skinned; we often lack the humility to have a sense of humor about ourselves. Like dry leaves we are easily “blown away” by the merest look or remark.
We do well to look within for deepest causes of our anger and hurt. The winds of insult and injustice will surely blow; we can do our part by endeavoring to be more substantial than a pile of dry leaves.